The impact of air operations

A discussion on the AHF (linked here) allows us to track individual unit strength of Luftwaffe (GAF) units during the campaign.  This is based on three snapshots, on 11 October (before Coningham’s air campaign in support of Crusader started), on 27 November (from an ULTRA intercept, after more than a week of operations), and on 27 December, after the retreat from Tobruk and the fall of Benghazi.

There are some important observations to be made.  First of all, despite a major effort by the Allies, neither availability nor serviciability of the major types dropped significantly (with the exception of the Ju 88).  This is likely because of a major effort in reinforcement, bringing in additional flights and squadrons, especially of dive bombers and destroyers. For the Italian air force, I have some data, which will be posted in a separate post.

On 27 December the longer range planes had disappeared – in my view this is a reflection of the fuel situation, which made it pointless to keep planes in North Africa that could operate towards it from e.g. Crete.  It is very interesting to see the effect of reinforcement on the destroyer availability.  This is likely because these planes were used to protect convoys against air- and/or seaborne attack (with pityful results, one might add).

Overall these numbers tell an interesting story, but it may not be the one usually told.

The list is by unit, with the first number indicating planes present with the unit, and the second serviceable.

2. (H) 14 (specialised reconnaissance)

11 Oct 21/6 Bf 110C-4 and Hs 126

27 Nov (data not available due to communications breakdown)

27 December 20/12 Bf 110C-4 and Hs 126

I./JG 27 (single-engined fighters)

11 Oct 31/17 Bf 109E-7 Trop

27 Nov unchanged from day before (will eventually get to Kew where I hope they have this)

27 December 24/10 Bf 109F-4

II./JG 27 (single-engined fighters) minus 6./JG27

11 Oct 28/13 Bf 109F-4 Trop

27 Nov 19/12 Bf 109 F-4 Trop

27 December 24/10 Bf 109F-4 Trop

Staff ZG 26 (twin-engined destroyers)

11 Oct (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

27 Nov 2/2 Bf 110C

27 December (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

7./ZG 26 (twin-engined destroyers)

11 Oct (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

27 Nov 9/8 Bf 110C

27 December (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

8./ZG 26 (twin-engined destroyers)

11 Oct 12/8 Bf 110D-3

27 Nov 7/5 Bf 110C

27 December (not available)

9./ZG 26 (twin-engined destroyers)

11 Oct (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

27 Nov 5/4 Bf 110 C

27 December (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

III./LG 1 (twin-engined medium bombers )

11 Oct 31/15 Ju 88 A-4 Trop

27 Nov 27/2 Ju 88 (with 3 more aircraft in Derna after diverting)

27 December (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

I./StG 1 (single-engined Stukas)

11 Oct 39/26 Ju 87 B-1

27 Nov 27/18 Ju 87 + 1 Cant. 445

27 December 32/17 Ju 87 B-1

II./StG 1 (single-engined Stukas)

11 Oct 31/26 Ju 87 B-1

27 Nov 26/17 Ju 87 R-2/4

27 December  (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

Staff StG 3 (single-engined Stukas)

11 Oct 7/2 Ju 87 B-1 and He 111 (twin-engined medium bomber)

27 Nov 3/? Ju 87 R2/4 + 3/? Bf 110C + 4/? He 111 H5/6 + 1/? Bf 108 (liaison)

27 December  9/5 Ju 87 B-1 and He 111 (twin-engined medium bomber)

I./StG 3 (single-engined Stukas)

11 Oct (not available – unit may not have been in theatre)

27 Nov 26/23 Ju 87 R2/4

27 December 30/18 Ju 87

Additional information for 27 November:

10 KG zbV 1 (Transport)
Ju 52 12/0 with 4 aircraft on operations

Liaison Flight JG27(?)

No information

Staff flight Fliegerführer
Me 110C 1/0

Fliegerführer
Ju 52 1/0
C 445 9/0
FH 104 1/0
Me 108 1/0
Fi 156 1/0

Desert Rescue

Fi 156 8/4 of which 1 in Benina, 3 in Derna

The table below is based on the numbers above, but is not 100% accurate.  I calculated this myself. Note that the 27 November number for the Bf 109 type is understating the issue, since the data was missing from the ULTRA intercept. Also note that qualitatively the Bf 109 underwent an improvement during the battle, with the I./JG27 reporting 31 ‘Emils’, an earlier type of the Bf109, while by 27 December they reported 24 BF 109F, a much improved type, which was superior to anything the Commonwealth forces fielded in the North African theatre at the time. This of course depends on the 11 October type info being correct, something which I am having serious doubts about (it is apparently from RIng & Shore “Fighters over the Desert”.

Availability chart for major types in Africa during Crusader

Availability chart for major types in Africa during Crusader

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